"Last Window is ... an adventure game that's worth playing."
Hotel Dusk: Room 215 was one of the greatest sleeper hits of the current handheld generation, combining a unique visual style with an excellently written story that was expertly localized. The game made excellent use of the capabilities of the DS, from its microphone to its screen; even its sleep mode was utilized in puzzle solving. It was hailed - rightly so - as one of the best graphic adventures this generation had to offer. When Cing announced plans to continue the storyline with Last Window: The Secret of Cape West, it was a graphic adventure fan's dream come true. Cing folded shortly after its Japanese release, and any translation possibility seemed grim. Against all odds, however, Last Window was given the green light for translation giving us another potential sleeper hit.
Last Window again centers around the character Kyle Hyde, who has just been ejected involuntarily from his position as a deadbeat salesman of the Red Crown, run by a good friend of his dead father. When he returns to his apartments at Cape West, he finds out that the apartment complex is being demolished at the end of the month, and that all tenants must vacate the building before then. At the same time, he receives a letter telling him to retrieve a lost object called the Scarlet Star. This propels Hyde to begin an investigation that will lead him to unravel a mystery from his past.
If the story of Hotel Dusk unraveled like a film noir, then Last Window is a contemporary cop movie. Kyle Hyde is a compelling character, but he's lost a good deal of his edge from Hotel Dusk. Much of this is due to the writing, though I'm unsure as to whether it's an effect of the script itself or localization. The writing seems to have taken a step back in comparison to the previous game. This is a shame because the overall story itself is well written and full of surprises. Characters are more numerous than in the last game, but this only serves to dilute their development, resulting in some shallow personalities and boring plot reveals. Not all the characters turn out this way, of course, but considering solving each character's problems and mysteries is paramount to progressing the story, enough are guilty of this to slow the momentum of the plot quite a bit.
Unfortunately, gameplay suffers from a relative drop in quality as well. Many of the puzzles are bland, while some of the initially engaging puzzles require convoluted, rather than creative, solutions. There's never a 'eureka' moment when solving a puzzle, rather a 'this is ridiculous, did they really do that?' While some may claim that 'adventure game logic' finds its way into all games of this nature, there is a difference between that which the audience can find acceptable and that which they cannot; having to hold the DS ever so slightly open while I tap on the screen through the small crack created is an example of the latter. Considering the innovation with which puzzles were tackled in Hotel Dusk, it's disheartening to see Last Window take such a large step back in this aspect. To be fair, though, despite being uninspired compared to the first, none of the puzzles are remotely unsolvable without a guide, and there are quite a few puzzles that are genuinely rewarding once solved, not the least of which is navigating the conversations to the proper ending, as asking or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can spell a game over. During exploration, the map on the touch screen is used to control movement, while the top screen shows the environment as seen through Hyde's eyes. It's a setup that works well, and the fact that the player has to hold the DS like a book gives it a crime novel feel.
Aesthetics are similar to the previous game, which was an excellent decision; the 'pencil sketch' graphical style is pleasing to the eye and incredibly well presented on the DS screens. Characters show a wide range of emotions and animate well. The music is well suited to the game's environments and situations, but isn't very memorable as a whole. Last Window's story lasts around 12 to 15 hours, and there's little incentive to play through again. Just to make sure I hadn't suffered from the rose-tinted 'nostalgia glasses' that afflict many a gamer, I went back and replayed Hotel Dusk, and it just made the problems I had with Last Window all the more apparent.
While the aesthetics and atmosphere closely mimic that of its prequel, the soul that was present in the first game seems to have been stripped away, leaving a story that, while interesting, doesn't quite engage the player in the same way that Hotel Dusk did. That being said, despite the drop in overall quality, Last Window still has moments where it lives up to its predecessor. It's a shame that Cing no longer exists, as it's fairly obvious that Kyle Hyde's journey for answers is still ongoing by the end of the game. As a swan song, though, Cing could have done much worse than Last Window. Those who are looking for an adventure on the same level as Hotel Dusk may be somewhat disappointed, but there is no question that despite the chinks in its armor, Last Window is still an adventure game that's worth playing.